Ottawa Choral Society joins with Montreal’s St. Lawrence Choir to sing Mozart

Jean-Sebastien Vallée is the music director to the Ottawa Choral Society. Photo: Sophimage

The final concert of the Ottawa Choral Society season on June 1 welcomes the St. Lawrence Choir of Montreal for a performance of Mozart’s Requiem and the Davide Penitente. OCS music dirctor Jean-Sebastien Vallee talks about the show in this interview with ARTSFILE. The concert will also be performed in Montreal.

Q. Can you tell me about the Mozart pieces. Why you have chosen them?

A. I’ve selected those two pieces first for their musical qualities, but also because of their unique background stories. We all know about the myths surrounding the Requiem and the fact that the piece was left unfinished by Mozart. In the case of Davide Penitente, it’s a reworking of his Mass in C minor, another work that he never completed. Since Mozart knew that the church wouldn’t allow such a long mass to be sung in service, he couldn’t find the motivation to finish it. When he received a commission for an Italian Oratorio, he saw the occasion to reuse the music of his mass and incorporate the Italian libretto of Da Ponte. In short, two unique pieces with very interesting backgrounds.

Q. A nice feature of this show is the presence of three alumni of the New Discoveries auditions process. 

A. Being heard and having the opportunity of performing professionally is one of the main challenges facing young singers who are just starting their careers. The New Discoveries program aims to help bridge the gap between the university and the professional stage. It is also very important to me that young singers be encouraged to perform oratorios and concert works as well as opera. This competition offers encouragement both with the cash prizes and the professional engagements offered by OCS.

Q. This performance involves the St. Lawrence Choir. Explain.

A. OCS and the St. Lawrence Choir have performed together several times in the past, however, I believe it has been more than 10 years since the groups joined their voices on stage. I teach at McGill University and the group includes several past and current McGill students and their current conductor, Philippe Bourque, is a proud alumnus of McGill University, which gives me an added connection with him. 

Q. Who is Iwan Edwards and why does he matter to both choirs?

A. Iwan is a major figure and a leader of the Canadian choral scene. He was the director of the choral program at McGill for several years and also conducted both the St. Lawrence Choir and the OCS for many years. The relationship between both choirs first came from having the same conductor. He was a passionate and visionary man.

Q. What is the significance of such a relationship between choirs?

A. The choral world can easily be made of silos with groups working very hard to create their own productions. Such a collaboration, especially with a group from a different city, truly creates a deep human and musical exchange. It also allows both groups to perform in different cities and to discover new audiences. It also permits larger productions since the costs are shared.

Q. Can you compare the choral music scenes of Ottawa and Montreal.

A. Both cities have numerous choral ensembles. Montreal has a larger audience base and more performance venues, the choral scene seems active but not saturated! Montreal has also several professional choirs, including the Choir of St. Andrew & St. Paul that I conduct. The presence of professional ensembles gives an additional level of music making and expertise. Ottawa probably has the most choirs per capita in the country. We can really say that Ottawa is a singing city. This has benefits, such as a clear appreciation for the choral art, but also challenges when it gets to audience building and recruitment. Both cities though are representative of the Canadian choral scene which is active, diverse, and innovative – we have to remember that there’s more people singing in choirs than playing hockey in this country.

Q. You will be announcing the new season on Friday … any hint of what to expect?

A. Next season will feature four concerts with two of them being important collaborations: with the NAC Orchestra for Britten’s War Requiem in the fall and with the King’s Singers for our December concert. The performance I’m the most excited to share with the choir and our audience is of Bach’s St John Passion. This is a masterwork that has so much to tell and to teach us – as listeners and performers. I really look forward to share my vision of this work with the Ottawa audience.

Mozart: A Master For All Time
Ottawa Choral Society
Where: St. Joseph’s Church
When: June 1 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.